Market dynamics can change on a dime – actually a struggling automaker's millions – but all indications are this is a propitious time to be a cable network. Analysts are projecting a stellar upfront, with one suggesting parity with the Big Four networks for the first time.
On Monday, Netflix indicated that along with online, TV remains the primary avenue for its flush marketing dollars -- and cable may provide the most efficiency.
So, which networks within the cable fleet are best-positioned in the jostling for a share of the would-be $9.2 billion in ad commitments to come over the next two months?
A couple of metrics have emerged that could aid in the predictions – or not. There are separate reports on which networks’ ads can best prompt consumer purchases, and on the “top performing” sales organizations.
A Beta Research survey indicates that three Scripps Networks -- Cooking Channel, DIY and HGTV – are most effective at carrying ads that ring cash registers. They were followed by Disney XD, which is aimed at boys ages 6 to 14, and another Scripps outlet, Food Network.
A trio of ESPN networks were in the top 10, along with a fifth Scripps’ network, country music channel GAC.
Meanwhile, results from an annual Jack Myers report on sales organizations found ESPN; the Nickelodeon group; and the Viacom unit covering Comedy Central and TV Land as the top three in performance -- using a group of characteristics from customer service to multi-platform offerings.
With the Beta Research report, an online survey was conducted in January of nearly 6,000 cable subscribers. But the results aren’t culled from the full amount, just the subset of viewers ages 18-plus of a particular network.
So, it is not surprising that smaller networks with more targeted programming, and presumably advertising, were strong performers. All networks included did have distribution in 50 million homes or more. Broadcast networks were also included.
The Cooking Channel, DIY and HGTV, each had 31% of respondents indicating a likelihood to buy their advertised products. Disney XD -- which apparently had some viewers older than 18 or pliant parents -- came in at 30%. The Food Network followed at 29%.
Then, came ESPNU at 25%. Another Scripps network, country music channel GAC, and Planet Green were each at 25% as well.
ESPN2, ESPN News, MTV and the Science Channel rounded out the top 10 at 24% each.
The Jack Myers rankings of sales organizations was derived from a survey of 250 advertiser and agency executives, regarding 48 organizations that included cable, broadcast, syndication and in-cinema.
Criteria included the quality of the sales team; value for investment; opportunities for multi-platform extensions; effective upfront and sales presentations; and research provided to back the value of a purchase.
Among all sales groups, ESPN came in first with a 71% figure on respondents rating it as a “market leader or market achiever.” Nickelodeon followed at 70% and the Viacom Comedy Central/TV Land entertainment group at 65% (MTV was considered separately).
Among other cable network groups, Turner Sports followed at about 65%, then Adult Swim/Cartoon Network at 64%.
Following multiple syndication and broadcast networks, came Discovery/TLC at 59% -- then separately Scripps’ HGTV/DIY and Food Networks at 58% each. TNT and TBS (Turner) were also at 58%, with Bravo/Oxygen slightly lower.
If not impact decision-making, these various results aren’t likely to quickly fade away: they’ll likely find their way onto PowerPoint presentations or in fawning comments by a CEO.
But as far as divining upfront performance … look elsewhere.
Bets on whether HGTV and Food Network will improve ratings, or if TV Land and Bravo can stay hotter than Cleveland, will be more impactful. Then, there’s the whole issue of how impending lost NFL and NBA games will hamstring ESPN or Turner.
To use a horrible cliche, the game hasn't begun.